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Archive for the ‘N.T. Wright’ Category

Many books are on my desk at the moment.  Books for my theological study, and books for my personal interest.  I have too many books on my desk.  I cannot read them all…

Yet this did not prevent me from picking up 7 more books on our recent trip to the states… (more…)

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WrightEhrmanBart Ehrman and N.T. Wright have agreed to ‘blog’ through the issue of Suffering and God over at Beliefnet. You can follow their discussion here.

Bart Ehrman (author of ‘Misquoting Jesus‘, ‘God’s Problem‘ and other titles) and Tom Wright (author of ‘Evil and the Justice of God‘, ‘Suprised by Hope‘ and other titles) are both recognised scholars. Ehrman is currently an ‘agnostic’ and is open about his slow departure from the Christian faith. Wright is Bishop of Durham.

I look forward to following their contributions and interaction with one another.

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the wright gift!

A rather HUGE thanks to my wife this year for definitely choosing the ‘Wright’ gift this Christmas…

(See pics below!) (more…)

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I love this quote from Bishop Tom Wright…“The Christian calling is to know the world with a knowledge that approximates to love. And the point about love – the epistemology which love generates – is that love both affirms the other-ness of the object (objectivity) while remaining in deep, rich and close subjective (subjectivity) relationship to it. Love transcends the objective-subjective divide.

Indeed. Love – true love – is a beautiful marriage of objectivity and subjectivity. It is not merely objective. That kind of ‘love’ would be distant, detached, indifferent and irrelevant. Also, it it not merely subjective, either. That kind of ‘love’ would be spine-less, scared, watered-down and weak.

Objectivity can’t handle interactions with things that are not like ‘it’. Objectivity remains detatched and protects its own ‘other-ness’, lest it become ‘corrupted’ from interaction with the alien ‘other’. Because it remains detached, it will never make a difference. It either escapes altogether, or watches from a distance.

Likewise, subjectivity will never make a difference. It is so interactive with the ‘other’ that it takes on the very nature of the ‘other’ and is therefore no longer itself, and therefore no longer able to influence or change. It is either enveloped-into or itself invelops the other.

God is often described in some of these ways. On one hand, God’s holiness and un-changing nature certainly seems in-corruptible and ‘objective.’ But is God so ‘objective’ that He remains detached, dis-interested and removed from reality? Most certainly not! The Scriptures testify to God dwelling among and being active in His creation – supremely so in Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, God’s gentle care and sacrificial love seems to point to a more ‘subjective’ quality of God. But is that to say that God is a push-over or that He compromises His own nature? No way! The Scriptures are clear that God is not mocked, He does not change and there is none like Him!

Not only do we mis-understand the nature of God in these ways, we also can mis-represent Him in these same ways. We can seek to be so pure and undefiled above all else (not ‘of’ the world, but unfortunately also not ‘in’ it!) that we have little or no effect on it. Purity and holiness is vital and important, but that purity and holiness needs to be seen by the impure and un-holy world we live in. This means we cannot retreat into our ‘Christian’ corner of the world.

Also, we can seek to be so ‘relevant’ in the world (‘in’ the world, but also unfortunately ‘of’ it), that we end up being just like it, and therefore have little or no effect on it once again. We must speak in the world’s language and meet them where they are at, but all the while taking care that we are imitating Christ, not the world. How can we expect the world to care about our hope when we dream, plan, spend and consume just like the rest of the world?

I think of two verses that could be seen as contradictory, but aren’t – especially in this light. The first is the ‘objective’ 1 John 2:15; Do not love the world, nor the things of this world.” The second is the ‘subjective’ John 3:16; “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” It’s not either/or. It’s both.

May we love God as God loves the world. In objectivity, may we see the ‘other-ness’ of the ‘world’ not as a threat to escape from, but as a field to work in. In subjectivity, may we seek interaction with the world not in order to imitate it, but in order to influence it.

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“Heaven.” What a mis-understood word this is!

For some, ‘heaven’ is simply a warm, fuzzy, good, old-fashioned or positive feeling they get when things happen to be going their way. Many others define ‘heaven’ in ways that are not unlike the Greek/Roman idea of the ‘after-life’ – in which your ghostly ‘soul’ floats away on a cloud.

Not only am I nervous about several overly definitive Christian definitions of ‘heaven’, (as if we could know exactly what it is like!) I’m also nervous that we may often mix one or both of the above ideas with the ideas we get from the Bible.

The promise of eternal life for God’s people is clear, but the Bible was not written to give us a encyclopedic definition of it. Rather than that, we are given pictures, glimpses and/or images of what it is. The biblical ‘heaven’ is more lasting than a fleeting ‘shot in the arm’ of cheerful glee, and infinitely more real than your soul flying around in a dis-embodied realm of clouds.

Heaven is the place where God is. It is not sitting at the far corner of the universe, but rather, a completely different dimension altogether. What seems to separate heaven and earth is not light-years of distance in space (or whatever), but rather the current condition of earth and it’s inhabitants. Even still, God’s dimension ‘breaks out’ onto ours in various ways. Heaven breaking out onto earth, is like God’s space ‘overlapping’ with ours. Dwelling with His people in the tabernacle, behind the veil in the Temple and now in our ‘hearts’ by His Spirit are all examples of this.

Now, God’s space wasn’t intended to merely overlap with ours. God’s intention was to ‘share’ His ‘space’ with His image-bearing creatures – us (think Garden of Eden). Human rebellion and degradation has distorted the image of God, and has left us (along with the entire universe) in dire need of restoration of that image.

This is where it get’s exciting…

Christ came (Himself a perfect expression of heaven and earth – God and man) and fulfilled what it meant to be the Image of God. His death defeated the power of evil, and His resurrected body is the ‘first-fruits’ of God’s restored order of being! God’s New Creation has begun! The reality of heaven has burst onto the scene, and it looks, feels and sounds like Jesus!

Indeed, the Christian hope of Heaven is not having spots of ecstatic bliss, and not soul-soaring in the sky. It is sharing God’s life in a New Heaven and New Earth that has been resurrected, re-made, re-built and restored to God’s intention.

That day is sure to come, but we don’t have to sit on our bums and wait for it to come. Jesus begs us to pray that Day (even just a grain of it!) into Today. “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Every good deed we do in Jesus name and in the power of the Spirit (and only by His Spirit, thank you very much) is a fresh work of New Creation that is not in vain (1 Cor. 15 – end of chapter).

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If you know anything about the word ‘gospel’, you probably know that it means ‘Good News.’ You may also know that it is the word (euangelion‘) that a Roman herald would use in making the announcement that there was a new Emperor in the Empire. I love the way that Tom Wright points out that these Roman heralds were not offering an invitation, but rather making an announcement. As Wright says, these heralds didn’t ride into town and say, “In case you are interested in offering your devotion to someone, you may wish to try Caesar, who has recently become the Emperor of Rome. He would be delighted if you should wish to follow him.” Instead, it would have been more like this, “We bring you the good news (‘gospel’) of Rome that Caesar Augustus is now our beloved Emperor, and demands your allegiance and taxes! On your knees!” In short, these heralds were declaring that Caesar was Lord!

The idea of ‘good news’ was certainly not just a Roman thing, however. The Jewish prophet Isaiah had spoken centuries ago about ‘good tidings’ for the poor, etc. (ch. 52 & 61 and other places). In fact, when Isaiah was translated into Greek (in the Septuagint), they used the same word (euangelion‘) in these places! Indeed, the word ‘gospel’ had a very different usage when the New Testament was written!

Believing the ‘Gospel’ in the first century came complete with side-effects, and it wasn’t simply that you belonged to a club that you didn’t before. If it was the Gospel of Caesar, the side-effect was that you would swear allegiance to him as Lord – lived out by paying taxes and obedience to the Roman system. Whether you were an orator, civic benefactor, patron, client, land-owner, peasant or slave, obedience meant knowing your place and not rocking the boat.

With the coming of Jesus, the word Gospel took on new meaning – as did the side-effects that went with believing it. For Jews, believing the Gospel of Jesus meant that the ‘good news’ of Isaiah had never been announced like it had been with Jesus. In the Roman world, however, believing the Gospel of Jesus was hazardous for your health! Believing that Jesus was Lord meant believing that Caesar was not! It meant believing that the ‘good news’ of Jesus made the ‘good news’ of Rome look like a cheap scam. It meant no longer living according to a system which really only served an elite few at the top, but rather living according to the character of a Lord, who is nothing at all like Caesar.

What in the world does this mean for us today? Possibly more than we care to know. I think it means that the Gospel of Jesus has little to do with an invitation that I accept (as if it were about ‘me’), and everything to do with an announcement that is true. Jesus really IS Lord. My life needs to give voice to that, and simply saying so won’t do. Simply associating with others that say so (or not associating with those that don’t) won’t do either. Our spending habits, dreams (‘American’ or otherwise), time, money, standard of living, and much more – they all must bow the knee to the fact that Jesus is Lord. Announcing this is our calling. It will definitely require our words, but equally (or more) so, it will require our lives.

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“And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John… perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of the fellowship, that we should go to the (uncircumcised) Gentiles and they to the circumcised (Jews). They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.”
– Paul in Galatians 2:9-10 NKJV
Wow. Welcoming those filthy, stinking, sinning, dirty Gentiles into the people of God, and such inconvenient, impractical and idealistic priority given to serving the poor?While we can’t reduce Christianity to these two characteristics, they remain at the very heart of the types of attitude and action that should characterise Christians.Welcoming Gentiles Today
It’s hard to imagine just how wrong it would have felt to many faithful Jews at that time even to entertain the idea that Gentiles could be justified by God simply by faith – no Jewish-ness (‘works of the law’ – Gal. 2:16) required. The accomplishment of Jesus had not only surpassed every hope of the Jews, but had also come with a sharp word of prophet-like judgment to them as well. All nations were supposed to be blessed in Abraham and by Abraham’s descendants. Instead, they had taken on some of the characteristics of the various empires that had continually been oppressing them. As N.T. Wright brilliantly puts it, God’s rescuers needed rescuing themselves. The invitation to Gentiles had always been open throughout Israel’s history, but for the most part, it was an invitation that wasn’t getting delivered.

The language of the New Testament is vibrantly coloured by the tension of Gentile-Jew relations, but the language of our world isn’t. Perhaps this can keep us from noticing how often we can take up the same attitude towards people who do not share our faith in Jesus. Our self-righteousness is often disgusting. In the same way that Paul talks about Gentiles ‘doing the things contained in the law’ (Romans 2:14), many people today are doing great things for the world with no faith in Jesus at all. God’s people are identified  by faith, and this doesn’t give us the right to make it harder for people that don’t look like us to come to this faith. Not only will we have to be more willing to allow them join us in our work, but we may have to humble ourselves and join them in their work.

Remembering The Poor Today
The leading apostles gave the ‘Gentile side’ of the ministry to Paul and the one thing that was of utmost importance to both of them was care for the poor. One does not have to read the Bible for very long to see how God is angered when His people don’t care for the poor. Multiple prophecy-warnings by prophets in the Old Testament, Jesus in the Gospel narratives, and the New Testament all confirm this concern of God that is to be our concern as well.

What keeps us from ‘remembering’ the poor? Allow me to suggest that our minds are on other things. If you live in a Western nation in the 21st century, that means that you are bombarded with advertising images and slogans that are determined to keep your mind on whatever it is they are trying to sell you. We need to re-capture the eager-ness of Paul and his fellow Apostles (or more importantly, the eager-ness of Jesus our Lord) to care for the poor. Comfort, convenience, home-improvement, investment (let alone drowning in debt), fashion and the like should all take a back seat to our eager-ness to remember the poor. There are countless ways to serve the needs of less privileged people around the world. We must make it our priority.

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